An Indian Parsi shipbuilder who introduced gaslight to Bombay (now Mumbai) and pioneered marine steam power in both England and India has been commemorated with a blue plaque in Richmond.
The plaque was mounted at the Richmond villa where Ardaseer Cursetjee Wadia spent the last ten years of his life before his death at the age of 67 in 1877.
Cursetjee was born into a well-known family of shipbuilders in Bombay, 1808. At the age of just 14, he began training as a naval architect in the government shipyard. As an adult, he oversaw the shipyard at the British fort of Mazagaon, before joining the Bombay Mint in 1831 to nurture his burgeoning interest in steam power.
It was during this time that Cursetjee brought gaslight to Bombay, when he created his own gas works in order to light his house using the fuel.
In 1839, he travelled to London to deepen his knowledge of steam machinery and was elected an Associate of the Institution of Civil Engineering the following year. However, he soon returned to India, having been made chief engineer and inspector of machinery at the East India Company’s Bombay Steam Factory.
After Cursetjee took charge of the steam branch of the Indian Navy in 1841 — the first Indian-born person to ever do so — he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in London.
Throughout the 1850s, Cursetjee split his time between London and India. He had a wife and children in Bombay, but during this time entered into a relationship with a woman in London named Marian Barber, and they had three children.
He eventually retired to a newly-built villa in Richmond, where he spent his remaining years with Barber and their children.
Cursetjee may have passed away almost a century and a half ago, but his engineering legacy lives on. His great great grandson, Blair Sanderson had this to say:
Ardaseer Cursetjee Wadia was an innovator. He was the first to install gas lighting in a house in India, built early steam-powered ships while still in his twenties and was a founder member of the Photographic Society of Bombay. In his retirement he worked with other Parsis in this country to develop what has become the Zoroastrian Trust Fund Europe, of which he was the first senior trustee. As a fellow engineer I look up to him
You can see the plaque for yourself at 55 Sheen Road, Richmond.